Aviation industry bodies demand information & intelligence sharing for safe sky

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In an emergency meeting called by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) in Montreal on Tuesday (July 29) in the aftermath of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 allegedly downed by a surface-to-air-missile in a conflict zone held by Pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine, ICAO along with the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Airports Council International (ACI) and the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation (CANSO) jointly expressed their strong condemnation of the use of weapons against civil aviation.

“We have met at ICAO today with collective resolve to urgently review the issues and potential responses to be pursued. As a first step, States have been reminded by ICAO of their responsibilities to address any potential risks to civil aviation in their airspace,” said a joint statement on risks to civil aviation arising from conflict zones.

The meeting attended by Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu, president, ICAO Council, Raymond Benjamin, secretary general, ICAO, Tony Tyler, director general & CEO, IATA, Angela Gittens, director general, ACI and Jeff Poole, director general, CANSO collectively endorsed the fact that while aviation is the safest form of transport, the MH17 incident has raised troubling concerns with respect to civilian aircraft operating to, from and over conflict zones.

“We recognize the essential need for information and intelligence that might affect the safety of our passengers and crew. This is a highly complex and politically sensitive area of international coordination, involving not only civil aviation regulations and procedures but also state and national security and intelligence gathering activities,” said the joint statement.

At the Montreal meeting all parties agreed that ICAO now has an important role to play in working as urgently as possible with its member states, in coordination with the aviation industry and other bodies within the United Nations, to ensure the right information reaches the right people at the right time.

The meeting entrusted ICAO with the responsibility of immediately establishing a senior-level Task Force composed of state and industry experts to address the civil aviation and national security aspects of this challenge, in particular how information can be effectively collected and disseminated. Secondly submit the Task Force findings as urgently as possible to a Special Meeting of the ICAO Council for action.

At the meeting the industry called ICAO to address fail-safe channels for essential threat information to be made available to civil aviation authorities and industry. There is a need to incorporate into international law, through appropriate UN frameworks, measures to govern the design, manufacture and deployment of modern anti-aircraft weaponry.

“I believe that we have made a great start.  But of course the goal is to move from the framework that has been agreed today and deliver results,” said Tyler in a separate stamen after the meeting in Montreal. “There is no escaping that what happened to MH17 was a tragedy that should not have happened. And it exposed a gap in the system. The system is not broken. It works extremely well in the vast majority of cases. And the proof of that is clearly evident in that air transport is the safest mode of global mass transit known to humankind.  So the challenge is to close the specific gap or gaps that allowed this tragedy to happen,” he added.

Speaking on behalf of the 240 airlines that he represents as the head of IATA Taylor said from the airline perspective, there are two expectations which should be highlighted. “First, airlines need clear and accurate information on which to base operational decisions on where and when it is safe to fly. In the case of MH17 airlines were told that flights above 32,000 feet that traverse Ukraine would not be in harm’s way.  We now know how wrong that guidance was. It is essential that airlines receive clear guidance regarding threats to their passengers, crew and aircraft. Such information must be accessible in an authoritative, accurate, consistent, and unequivocal way. This is the responsibility of states. There are can be no excuses. Even sensitive information can be sanitized in a way that ensures airlines get essential and actionable information without compromising methods or sources. And, although I will repeat that this is a state responsibility, I can also commit that the industry is ready to assist in any way possible to help governments to make this happen.” The second gap, according to Taylor which IATA expects to be closed, is about the international law or convention that imposes on states a duty to manage the design, manufacture and deployment of anti-aircraft weapons. “We have conventions that address chemical, nuclear, and biological weapons, plastic explosives, and weapons trade generally. MH17 has demonstrated that powerful and sophisticated anti-aircraft weaponry is in the hands of the non-state entities. Under ICAO’s leadership, I am confident that we can find ways within the UN system, to augment the international law framework to ensure that states fully understand and discharge their responsibilities in this regard,” he explained.

ICAO will convene a high-level safety conference with all of its 191 member states in February 2015.

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